Marine litter poses serious environmental, health, and economic threats to oceans and coastal ecosystems. It also presents a unique legal and regulatory challenge for many nation States (hereinafter States), as it can originate from diverse land-based and sea-based sources both within and outside of a State. While the full magnitude of the problem can be difficult to ascertain, some estimates suggest that an average of 8 million tons of plastic waste entered the ocean in 2010, and this figure has been projected to increase.
The prevalence of marine litter is the result of many different factors, including changing production and consumption patterns, inadequate waste management, and gaps in regulation of waste materials. The diverse sources require a comprehensive response. Accordingly, countries frequently utilize a variety of laws and policies to prevent, manage, and reduce the proliferation of marine litter. Many of these approaches are part of the general frameworks to reduce the generation and spread of solid waste, rather than being part of frameworks specifically designed to address marine litter. That said, a growing number of countries are developing targeted laws and policies to address marine litter—from laws mandating more research (e.g., in the United States) to laws banning certain types of products (e.g., plastic bags in Bangladesh and Rwanda), to overarching frameworks to address the growing problem (e.g., in Japan and Singapore).
Policies and laws need to address not only the removal of litter but are generally more successful when they govern the production, use, and disposal of products that would otherwise become marine litter. To this end, using a circular economy approach to prevent the generation of waste products can reduce the overall production of marine litter.